Having spent most of her childhood growing up in an abusive household, Elizabeth Bailey knows a thing or two about self-doubt. "When someone spends all of their time telling you that you don't matter, or that you're not good enough, you start to believe them," says Bailey.
Little did she know that a gift from her grandmother – a tiny, film camera – would forever change the trajectory of her life, "I loved that camera so much," says Bailey. "I would run around taking pictures of everything; my parents had to slow me down because I was spending all of my money on developing rolls of film."
To Bailey's delight, when she was looking at the world through the lens of a camera, all of the voices in her head that constantly told her she wasn't good enough began to quiet down. While taking photographs, she felt a level of confidence that she lacked in her everyday life, and unlike many childhood hobbies that fade over time, Bailey's passion for photography only continued to grow.
A few years after her grandmother gifted her with that camera, Bailey used money she had saved up from countless babysitting jobs to buy a camera of her very own. As a high school student, she took photography classes and spent all of her spare time in the darkroom, a place that felt infinitely special to her because it was there she was able to see her images slowly come to life. In college, Bailey majored in art education and continued taking courses in photography, where her passion continued to grow.
Years later, while working as an art teacher at Rochester Intermediate School, Bailey began to notice that she could recognize parts of herself in many of her students. Children would come into her classroom and she could immediately recognize that their home lives weren't great or that they were suffering from self-esteem issues. In their faces, she saw the same self-doubt that she had always struggled with during her formative years, and she began to wonder if there was a way she could use her photography skills to help these kids see how beautiful and special they all were.
After some serious brainstorming, Bailey created a project called "Simply Suite Storytelling Sessions for Tweens." According to Bailey, the goal of these sessions is to encourage kids to find value in themselves and to give them a sense of belonging in a world where so many children have a tendency to feel out of place. Whether we put the blame for these negative feelings on the awkwardness of the preteen years or on social media and its toxic effects on kids' self-esteem, there is no doubt that most young people could use a boost. That's just what Bailey has been doing for the last five years.
"As a child, you believe whatever people tell you, and I want kids to leave these Storytelling Sessions feeling loved and accepted for exactly who they are," says Bailey, explaining that as the photographer, she takes on the responsibility of providing a safe place where it's OK for young people to be open, honest and vulnerable.
"I truly believe that we are all placed on this planet with so much to offer and that we are here to teach each other how to be good people. Of course, we all make mistakes along the way and we all go through rough patches, but that's the best part of life," she says. "I want these kids to know that they are able to work their way around those mistakes and to value themselves. At some point, we all have to help empower one another. I feel like I can help do that with my photographs."
The Springfield Art Association has provided studio space above the SAA Collective, 105 N. Fifth St., located in the historic Broadwell Pharmacy building in downtown Springfield. Bailey's dream is to use her own past trauma to try and transform the world into a kinder, better, more accepting place. She continually emphasizes that our lives are like mirrors, and that everything we put out into the universe will eventually circle back to us. If that's the case, it only takes one quick glance at her beautiful photographs to see that she has an abundant amount of joy, love and beauty coming her way.
Lana Shovlin is a freelance writer and the program coordinator for Downtown Springfield, Inc. Shovlin's 11-year-old daughter, Grace, had her photo taken for the Simply Suite Storytelling Sessions for Tweens and said Bailey made her feel beautiful and confident about herself.